The Albion Band – Fighting Room review

The Albion Band; Fighting Room EPIt was a pleasure to receive a review copy of the new EP from The Albion Band last week, the pleasure coming from both the concept and the contents.

A bit like the six degrees of separation, surely most British people by now know somebody who was once in, around, or has performed with, The Albion Band. Such is the majesty of their reach, that their names are legion, for they are many.

So The Albion Band is perhaps something more of a project name rather than a specific group of people, except for one central point, Ashley Hutchings, founder of The Albion Band, and also key person in the formation of Fairport Convention and Steeleye Span – for pity’s sake.

But that’s where this new incarnation is different – this is The Albion Band sans Ashley Hutchings, (except for a bit of lurking) and led instead by his son, the accomplished Blair Dunlop, on guitars and vox.

Their new release, an EP called ‘Fighting Room’ showcases Dunlop and co’s take on the Albion sound, which is a distinctly folk rock groove, reminiscent of the old days of the Albions, but also firmly up to date.

Dunlop and his cohort of Gavin Davenport, Katriona Gilmore, Tom Wright and Tim Yates deliver a energetic blast of sonic excellence with five classic slices of folk rock, led by the Thieves’ Song, penned by Davenport himself.  Beside the last song on the disc, a new rendering of Tucker Zimmerman’s Taoist Tale, the Thieves’ Song is my favourite on the release, lyrically it is a burning reminder of folk’s political inclinations, and musically would stand up well in the repertiore of any of the best folk rock acts.

The Fighting Room EP is a great start for this latest version of The Albion Band, and personally I look forward to hearing much more from them, you can buy it at The Albion Band online store, where you can also pick up some of their previous output.

It’s something of a milestone in the evolution of The Albion Band, and hopefully as a new unit we’ll be hearing much more from them over the coming months and years.

Watch out for these guys, they’ve got something.

Fela! Original Cast Album review

Can’t get to the Fela! Musical? No, me neither, so I reccomend the following as some small recompense – the Original Cast Album, available from the nice people at Wrasse Records (the same people who have just released the massive Fela box-set.

Fela! has been getting great reviews since the get-go – despite the recent news of an unlikely law suit having the potential to spoil some of the party.

But it was always bound to be a winner, a wonderful tale, colourful characters, amazing music etc etc.

The Cast Album is a great taster of the flavours of Fela on offer, with some dialogue excerpts and some classic Fela Kuti tracks (including Zombie, Water Get No Enemy and Sorrow Tears and Blood) to keep you entertained.  Yes, it is no real replacement for the show itself, but it’s bound to keep you entertained for a while, and if you close your eyes for a moment or two, you could almost believe you were there…

Highly reccomended.

And just as an extra treat…

Fela Kuti ‘complete recordings’ box set released

Looks like this release was timed to coincide with the Fela! musical about to hit London village, which, by the way, is the first musical I can ever remember actually wanting to go and see. Alright, I wanted to see Les Mis but that’s a bit different (isnt it?)

Anyhow, back to the subject in hand, an enoooooooormous box set release from Wrasse records of all of Fela Kuti’s albums, a stonking 26 cds (comprising 46 albums) , plus a dvd ‘A slice of Fela’ in the ‘complete box set’ or three separate box sets of about 8 or 9 cds each – it’s an amazing thing, and if like me and half the known world you are a fan of the music of the man they call Fela – then it’s a thing of beauty! Or it would be if I had the spare £72.00 that the full box set costs. My own lack of cash aside though, that actually works out to a measely £1.50 per album by the way!

Fela Kuti was a rebel, a legend, a wildly eccentric, controversial and colourful figure, and he was the king of Afrobeat. His name is talismanic to many, and this collection or its constituent parts shouldnt just be of interest to completists, but to anyone serious about music, Africa, or the roots of modern pop, rock, funk, hip hop and soul. There is something in Fela’s music which is distinctively African – like I say, it’s a thing of beauty.

I hope to get hold of the cast recording of Fela! And if I do, I’ll review it here. The box sets are out at the beginning of November, and available from your preferred place of music purchase (unless it’s Oxfam, in which case you’ve not got a hope, these are for keeps.)

Review: The Alternative Kitchen Garden, an A – Z

The Alternative Kitchen Garden, an A – Z by Emma Cooper.

I have a lot of gardening books, and I have looked at lot of other gardening books – but I have never seen one quite like this.

Most gardening books are basically either manuals, scientific text books, or encyclopaedias, but despite a title which might lead one to think that Emma Cooper’s book falls into the latter category – in fact it needs a separate category altogether.

This charming and easy to read book is in reality a manifesto – or perhaps its a kind of love-letter. Emma has used the conceit of an A-Z as a handy way of organising some of her thoughts, taking us through a series of plants and horticultural terminology according to their rank in the alphabet.  Now if you are looking for a book which works as a kind of exhaustive garden dictionary, then this is the wrong book – it isnt intended for that purpose. Rather it pulls together an almost random group of plants or ideas under a letter heading; P for instance is for Parsley; Peas; Peat; Peppers; Permaculture; PH; Phosphorus and Potatoes, while N is for Nasturtiums; Native; Nectarine;  Nettles and Nitrogen.  It then provides a short essay on each subject, and each one is delivered in Emma’s trademark accessible and knowledgeable style. She is a very ‘friendly’ writer, her work is easy to engage with and despite her wealth of knowledge you dont ever feel as if she is talking down to you.

I really like the book, as I say, it’s easy to read and it’s interesting, but that isnt really waht sets it apare. Most importantly Emma manages to exude a love for the subject – and this is what I mean by calling it a manifesto. Really this is a book which tells us to love our gardens, our window boxes or allotments – whatever we have to grow things in.It is a book which has mud under its fingernails.

Emma is a kind of garden evangelist, spreading the good news of growing things.

I think you can spot that I really like this book – but that’s not to say I dont have any criticisms, I was not sure about at least one piece of her advice, that Comfrey can be taken internally. Everything I have ever read before warns against it, and I’m not inclined to take her advice on that (sorry!)

The other negative aspect I think is the design, I think the wrong fonts have been used, which is a shame because it detracts slightly from the appeal of the book – however this is a very subjective thing, and I am a bit nerdy about fonts and suchlike. In any case, that side of things is down to the publisher not the author, I just dont think they’ve called it quite right.

The pictures throughout the book are great, and I love the fact that this is not a coffee table book, rather its the kind of book which can go with you out into the garden or wherever you go to think about growing things.

So in sum then – buy this book if you love gardens. Buy this book for people who need to love gardens. Dont buy this book if you want a full A-Z of plants and whatnot, there are plenty of other books out there for that purpose, this is a much more interesting and unusual text. This is a delightful and inspirational manifesto of gardening lore, with lots of good ideas and helpful information, and I’m looking forward to more from Emma.

The Alternative Kitchen Garden, an A-Z by Emma Cooper is published by Permanent Publications. RRP £14.95 ISBN: 9781856230469

Emma Cooper’s blog and podcast are available here.

it’s getting difficult to breath in here

I have the enormous privelige of having a small room to work in – it’s also the guest room, and general repository for things which dont have a more suitable home – Kel’s huge gym ball for instance. It’s a little chaotic at times, but in the main its a great place to work,and I like it very much.

However, its currently getting a bit tricky to breath in here – not only have I got four demi-john’s of country wine plurping away and pumping out massive amounts of carbon dioxide, but I have just bought half a dozen new bulbs of garlic for autumn planting – and they smell really strong.

I suppose that’s just a good reason for me to get on and do some garlic planting really.

In terms of wine by the way, we’ve got two lots of bramble wine, and two of elderberry wine on the go, I’m thinking of going for some rosehip wine too, although I have been put off by the rather disappointing results of rosehip tea…

Oh and while I think to mention it – look out for a review of Emma Cooper’s marvellous ‘The Alternative Kitchen Garden – an A- Z’ coming soon, you can rest assured it’s positive, get an order in for Christmas presents.

Book review: The Vertical Self

The Vertical Self

Mark Sayers latest book takes an analytical approach to the current state of the church, calling for a return to a way of life which he characterises as ‘vertical’ – removed from the fame chasing, image obsessed ‘horizontal’ way of conventional living.

Essentially Sayers is calling for a return to discipleship and holiness, and all that these concepts entail. He bemoans the widespread practise of duplicity, people living different lifestyles according to whom they are with at any one time.

But as well as calling for individuals to reclaim their roles as disciples, he calls the church as a whole to account, pointing out the futility of trying to make Jesus ‘cool’ – as if finding out how to do so will somehow fill our churches, and stop us being picked on in the playgrounds. This is what Sayers describes as ‘The mistaken belief that millions of non-Christians are waiting for Christianity to get hip enough, and then they will convert.’

Sayers writes with insight and intelligence, coolly picking over contemporary culture and providing a helpful tonic to all of us who are too easily drawn into a way of living which has all the depth of a teaspoon.

He combines engaging stories with a canny ability to explain the spirit of the times. His writing comes has been born out of years of experience as a pastor and cultural commentator, and The Vertical Self is a welcome addition to the growing body of contemporary literature which is advocating a rediscovery of a deeper way.

His solutions for our present maladies are drawn from ancient sources, from Judaism and early Christianity. He points out the need for us to engage with one another in accountability and comradeship, and provides practical suggestions for ways to do so. This is a book which individuals, small groups and larger churches can absorb and use with ease, and with great profit.

Disclaimer: I received ‘The Vertical Self’ free from Thomas Nelson, as part of the blogger review program.

Robert Crumb’s Genesis – a review

I recently got a copy of Robert Crumb’s illustrated book of Genesis for review. I’m not going to print my whole review here, it’s going elsewhere, but I am going to give a quick/short form review as I know lots of people will be interested in the book.

Of course Crumb is a justly famous artist, his mastery of pencil and pen is amazing, and the artwork in this version of the Genesis text is incredible.

Moreover he doesnt take any liberties with the text, it’s basically ‘as is’ (albeit with the mandatory additions of chapters, and the occasional Crumb footnote).

It’s a beautifully illustrated book, and the illustration is very well researched, adding a new dimension to the text in places.

My only grumble with the book is that in my opinion Crumb has over-sexualised some of the female characters. I think he does this to try and emphasise their power and importance, but I think the pneumatic breasts and rounded buttocks which appear clothed and unclothed as the the stories demand, are at times unneccesarily exagerated.

Textual literalists may also complain that while Crumb doesnt add or subtract from the words, he does add some new layers of meaning (although well researched of course) via facial expressions and background contexts in certain scenes.

In all, an excellent book, really beautifully drawn. There are issues surrounding sexualisation, and in my opinion this is a consistent issue with Crumb, but if you can ignore that, then there is the real possibility that this will open up the ancient and awesome book of Genesis in a new way for the reader, and that is always welcome.

Parental advisory: contains sexual and violent content.

Peyoti for President


I’ve been really impressed by a new band to hit my radar screen.

Peyoti for President are a British band whos album ‘Rising tide of Conformity’ came out on May 4th. Peyoti for President do a pretty good job of defying description by genre. Their lyrics are heavily politically charged, and fairly full on in language terms -just say I’m glad I didnt put the CD on in the car when the kids were in it!

Certainly they are the nearest thing I’ve heard to a British equivalent to Manu Chao or Gogol Bordello, they combine spanish/flamenco style with a kind of gypsy punk sound, but that really doesnt sum them up enough. They manage to acheive a real multi racial, world, feel to the music, without that kind of new age hippy styling that many others end up with. Plenty of aggressive percussion, feisty spanish guitars, shouting vocals with lulling backing vox, and a few dreadlocks all help.

I can hear the Clash in there, as well as some of the Latin sounds that are making headway around the world, and then some of the hard edged new wave groups, I suppose I’m thinking of the Fall actually.

I think though that the music is inextricable from the politics, which is full on revolutionary. The whole album seems like a manifesto, a rebel yell calling forth the people’s revolution. Its like nothing I’ve heard for a few years, and all the more refreshing for that. I believe Tom Robinson said they were more about a way of life than about a type of music, and that does seem appropriate, he should know after all. Are these more authentic than the  ‘days that changed the world’ Tom?

The group combine a tangible sense of anger (righteous and otherwise?), of great musical and lyrical ability, and an ability to write catchy songs which seem to avoid being pop, while retaining the ability to engage an uneducated listener.

I like their ability to make me sit up and listen, I like their attitude, I disagree with them on many things, am right with them on others, fundamentally I think they could have a singularly interesting career, so get in there while they are still new.

One thing I really like about them, is that if you try to interact with them through their site, you’ll get straight in touch with the band, no management fob off, it’s them, doing their thing. Being Peyoti for president. They’ve put their money where their mouth is and bypassed the whole corporate music industry thing, in my humble assesment that is not only the ethical thing to do, but it makes sound common sense too these days. More power to their elbow, I’m a fan.

Vote Peyoti for President, the only vote that counts.

Check out the band’s website, and their myspace for more. Also catch them on youtube. Most importantly, get a copy of the CD, a snip at £9.99.